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Some UVA grad students still waiting on stipend payments

A sign in Charlottesville details the founding of the University of Virginia.
A University of Virginia spokesperson said in a statement that “a change in this year’s staff and administrative calendar resulted in the delayed release of stipend disbursements to a limited number of graduate students.” (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

At least 40 University of Virginia graduate student workers did not receive their stipends on time during the holidays, according to an on-campus labor organization. 

The delayed payments have led to broader calls for the university to increase pay for the students. 

The UVA chapter of the United Campus Workers of Virginia said at a press conference on campus Monday that they plan to meet with university officials Tuesday to discuss next steps. 

Crystalina Peterson is a member of the Bridge to the Doctorate program in the university’s history department. The program is intended to help students with undergraduate degrees from historically underserved communities prepare for Ph.D. programs. It includes a $26,000 yearly stipend. 

Peterson said it was an “incredible opportunity” that allowed her to continue working among researchers in her field after completing her undergraduate degree. 

“[W]e still have had to rely on community-based support programs in order to survive,” Peterson said Monday. She added that she doesn’t have the funds to cover daycare for her 4-year-old daughter, who was with her at the press conference. 

“We have not gone grocery shopping in nearly two weeks,” Peterson said. 

Even a short delay in receiving her stipend, she said, can result in months of catching up with late fees, accrued interest and other costs. That’s why the United Campus Workers of Virginia — a union representing workers at UVA, William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University — is demanding the university cover those additional costs. 

UVA spokesperson Brian Coy said in a statement that “a change in this year’s staff and administrative calendar resulted in the delayed release of stipend disbursements to a limited number of graduate students.” 

The school’s break was extended after a November mass shooting on campus. 

Payments are promised by the first of each month and are often processed ahead of time to avoid delays. 

Coy said the university is “closely examining” the payment process to avoid repeat errors. And, he said, the school has reached out directly to the affected students to offer assistance with late fees and “other issues that may arise as a result of this episode.” 

Since the missing payments were first noticed in late December, the UCWVA said some of the stipend payments have been received. Coy said the university released all remaining payments before the new year, but they might be delayed by the Jan. 2 bank holiday. 

Still, members of the union said during the Monday press conference that it’s not uncommon for UVA’s payments to be late. Peterson, who is in her first year at the school, said this is the second time it’s happened to her.  

“The point of enrolling in a program that provides a stipend is to provide financial security while we do work that benefits this university,” Peterson said. “We should not have to rely on food banks, rental assistance, [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], utility assistance and other programs to meet our basic needs.”  

Crystal Luo, treasurer of UVA’s UCWVA chapter, said Monday that pressure from the group led to the university’s quick response and its move to investigate its processes. She also said the group is not going to relent. 

“Any solution to this particular incident ... must also deal with the fact that grad workers live in a general state of financial insecurity because of how little we’re paid by the University of Virginia,” Luo said.  

The group plans to meet with UVA Executive Vice President and Provost Ian Baucom on Tuesday.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.